04 February 2010

"Eighth Sacrament" (by guest blogger Rudi Krause)

[Comment by Rosie Perera: This article was written by a friend of mine from Regent College who is also in my Dante reading group. It was originally published in his church newsletter, accompanied by an invitation to his fellow Vancouverites to come join him for contra dancing, with the particulars. I've edited that part out. I thought the topic was fascinating though. Sorina and I have had some back and forth about this article before I posted it here, and we'll be following up with our discussion about it in the comments. Posted and editied with permission of the author.]

During the first two decades of my life the people in my world didn’t talk or think much about the sacraments. If the topic ever came up it was treated with suspicion, perhaps contempt, and - I dare say - ignorance. Over the course of the next four decades my experience of, and thinking about, the sacraments has evolved; now they are central to my understanding of the faith.

“Sacrament” has to do with “sacred” or “holy.” In one sense only God is holy; but because the trinitarian, that is, relational, God has entered the created world, everything is now holy - touched by grace, held in the gaze of divine love. All of life has become sacramental. Communion allows us to see all meals as holy, as opportunities to experience grace. Baptism changes the basic pattern of how we live our lives, in fact, turns it upside down. Marriage is always a reflection of God’s loving relationship with his bride, his people.

Yet, even though we are invited to see all of life as sacramental, there is something special about some of the sacraments. A sacrament (in this special sense) is a practise, an activity with something tangible: water, bread, wine, oil, bodies (hands, taste buds, skin, and so on). A practise which allows us to experience God’s immanence, God’s incarnational presence in the ordinary things and activities of daily life. The Eucharist, for instance, opens up in two directions at once: by receiving and consuming bread and wine, we receive - once again - the gift of eternal life which is meant to transform us in all that we are and do. We receive grace (salvation, love, the gifts of the Spirit) so that grace can flow out from us every moment of every day.

One can think of a sacrament as a powerful metaphor, a metaphor big enough to inhabit, a metaphor (image, practise) significant enough to transform us. I have already mentioned three sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, marriage. Lutherans recognize two special sacraments; Catholics have seven. I have discovered another one, and so I propose an eighth.

Dancing. Now all kinds of dancing could be seen as sacramental in that broader more general sense I discussed above; but I’m thinking of a particular kind of dancing - contra dancing. It has become a special sacrament for me, a means of grace, a metaphor for how we are meant to live, trusting one another, staying light on our feet, letting go as well as reaching out to each other, being in a generous relationship with “partners” and “neighbours,” listening to the music, being willing to risk and make mistakes, forgiving one another, and getting on with life without remaining stuck in regrets.

I guess other kinds of group folk dancing could work equally well, dancing in a circle for instance (like Israeli dancing; which makes me think of the song, “Draw the Circle Wide,” found in our hymnal). But it is contra dancing that has become part of my life on a regular basis. From September to June, on the first Saturday and the second Friday of each month, at St James’ Hall, a live band and a good caller lead the people who gather in a series of lively dances. There is laughter and good will among the participants who range in age from under ten to over seventy. One goes away at the end of the evening feeling very good.

I think it is quite appropriate that these dances are held in a church building named after the apostle who emphasized that faith needs to be put into practise. I believe it is also appropriate that the building is no longer used for church services; this reminds me that for followers of Jesus the boundary between “sacred” and “secular,” between “religious” and “everyday” has been erased. Because of the sacraments all of life is holy.

The best part of contra dancing is that I am able to “get out of my head and into my feet,” into my body. And (horror!) here I am turning this sacrament back into disembodied words which you may toss around in your head for a while before forgetting it.


Iambic Admonit said...

First of all: I love the idea of dancing as a specifically "Christian" activity: as fellowship, as deeply profound enjoyment of several of the beauties of creation (music, movement, the body, symmetry, choreography, etc,), and even as worship (public or corporate). That's a wonderful idea, and under-recognized. I know I "feel God's pleasure" when I dance (and I don't even dance very well!). It's a great way to acknowledge the beauty of interaction with others. It's a lovely metaphor (when done right) for several social or moral realities: the man always leads, the dance only works right when you have opposite-sex couples lined up down the room, the dance is complete when you end up back with your partner, everything works smoothly when we all help each other, everyone needs to know what to do because a small mistake can throw the whole thing off, and (of course): the woman is always "right"! So there's a lot to be said for integrating dance, especially certain kinds such as English Country and Contra, into the Christian life.

However, I have a problem with the word "sacrament." I am very uncomfortable with saying that dance could be one of the sacraments. Now, I don't come from a sacramental tradition. But here's my current thinking on Sacraments: either everything is a sacrament, or only a few specified things are.

If the latter, then we have to be very careful to treat as sacraments only things that are justifiably so by divine fiat or (at least) a well thought-out, well-documented, and long-established tradition supported by Biblical study. In that case, I think probably only three could count: baptism, the Lord's Supper, and (more debatably) marriage. As a Protestant, I wouldn't include confession. I haven't thought (prayed, studied, or anything) about Holy Orders, confirmation, or the anointing of the sick, so I won't comment on those.

If the former (that everything is), well, that's really just a way of looking at the world (that all is God's creation and points to him, as your friend explained in his piece) through Christian lenses. But then we can't say that dancing is a sacrament, because that would elevate it above, say, corporate prayer, for instance, or private Bible study. I think (although I'm not certain) that that's why some Evangelical churches don't have sacraments at all.

C.S. Lewis had an interesting experience when he first went back to take communion after becoming a Christian (or re-converting, or re-affirming his faith). He wrote to his brother, and I paraphrase: "I have no difficulty believing in the Eucharist itself [i.e., that something either physical or spiritual, but in either case, real, happens during the Lord's Supper]; rather, I have a hard time understanding how any ordinary meal taken with Christians is not the body and blood of Christ."

But he wasn't about to go instituting Coffee Hour with Crackers and Cheese as the 8th sacrament of the Anglican Church. Or however many they had.

Rudi Krause said...

Thank you for your comment. On the one hand I am very serious about my views regarding contra dancing as sacramental, as expressing a spiritual truth meaningfully. On the other hand, I am not at all serious about proposing that churches adopt contra dancing as an eighth (or third) sacrament. I am not interested in the institutionalization of what is spiritually significant. In a similar vein, I consider someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer a saint, whether or not he has been officially canonized.

Rudi Krause

Rudi Krause said...

Thank you for the response. On the one hand I am very serious in expressing my views on contra dancing as sacramental. On the other hand, I am not seriously proposing that churches adopt it as a third or eighth sacrament. I'm not interested in the institutionalization of what is spiritually meaningful. In a similar vein, individuals like Dietrich Bonhoeffer are saints whether or not they are officially recognized as such.

Rudi Krause